Ask Yourself This One Question To Beat Procrastination

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The ironing piled up, the yard is an overgrown mess, and it’s tax time and none of the required documentation is in order. Or insert whatever your least favorite tasks might be.

Sometimes you just don’t feel like it. Who ever really feels like weeding the yard, ironing, or doing the taxes?

Whether the next task calling my name is unloading the dishwasher, folding the laundry,  or making a phone call to make an appointment, when “I’ll do it later” enters my mind, I ask myself one question (which I learned from reading Julie Morgenstern’s books):

If I don’t want to do this now, will I want to do it later?

Invariably, the answer to my question is no. No, I don’t believe I will feel like dealing with the dishes or making this phone call later. Furthermore, it seems that with most tasks, waiting until later compounds the initial inconvenience into a great big thing that ends up taking more time than originally necessary.

This trick can work for five minute or less tasks and giant things that we have been putting off, like dealing with taxes or finances. It’s like giving your future self a gift. You current self is making a teensy sacrifice to keep future you happy, creating more space and time to do something you really want to do. Whether that is taking a bath, reading a book, or simply sleeping, you will be able to rest easy knowing that whatever it was is now taken care of, no longer lurking over your head for some later, yet to be determined time.

When to Wait

There are times when it makes sense to put off certain tasks. If doing a task will make you late for something, miss out on spending time with a loved one, or you are feeling so tired and run down you can barely think or see straight, then step away. It’s not worth it.

Also, there are legitimate times when you need more information or time to figure out what to do next. In these cases, wait, but not too long.

For me, many times waiting is not my only option, and I actually can push through the discomfort of “not feeling like it” to get something done. Only you can know for yourself when it is truly the time to wait vs. time to proceed forth.

The Drawbacks of Waiting

Let’s say the current thing of debate is sending an email. You have an idea in your head of what you will write, but the pesky thought “Not now, I’ll do that later” enters your mind. It doesn’t seem big enough to add to your to-do list, and you estimate it won’t take more than five to ten minutes.

If you wait, your mind periodically recalls that email I have to write throughout the day(s) that follow, taking your attention away from things that you find more interesting and important. When you finally sit down and force yourself to write it, you find that it only took three minutes, and wonder why you didn’t just do it when you first thought of the response, saving yourself all those minutes of mental energy beyond the required three.

Or maybe it’s making a phone call to reschedule an appointment. Again, not big enough to add to the list of things to do, but the memory of having to do it keeps poking at you throughout the day.

Maybe it’s reserving plane tickets or booking a hotel. This is where procrastination turns a relatively simple and straightforward task into something more complex. Making the reservations several months earlier would have spared you the drama of your hotel of choice being booked or overpriced, but now you are forced to spend more time than you planned checking for hotels within your spending zone.

The Benefits of Doing Things Now

When I am debating whether to wait or just do it, I consider how good I would feel to have [insert unpleasant task] over with. It’s not that I 100% of the time do things when I think of them because of this question, but asking myself this question helps me to make more conscious decisions about how I spend my time. I feel good knowing that I am being honest with myself about what I can and can’t do in any given moment, rather than thinking I don’t have time to do things when I actually do, or forcing myself to do things that I am not prepared for.

Be good to yourself: the current version and future versions. Future you will be grateful you did! If you have a trick to overcome procrastination, please share below!

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  1. Meg Evans Jan 13, 6:26 pm

    I was going to write a long comment about the perils of putting things off because of tiredness, but decided to turn it into a post on my blog instead. Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

  2. anniehurley Jan 24, 12:59 pm

    Yay! Happy to help 🙂 I enjoyed your post and your perspective on the importance of self-talk in the procrastination vs. getting things done tug-of-war. Thank you!


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